Synagogues are getting a bad rap these days, but we can’t give up on the institutions that still provide one of the best opportunities for creating community and connection for American Jews of all ages.
At the same time, we have to recognize that the only congregations to survive and thrive will be the ones that understand that the model of the 1950s and ’60s no longer serves the changing nature — and needs — of today.
Fortunately, we see some of that innovation happening right here in our own community. But it’s not enough.
While the much-discussed Pew findings pointed to the grim reality of increasing Jewish assimilation and disengagement, the survey actually found relatively little decline in synagogue affiliation.
Only 31 percent of Jewish adults across the United States are affiliated with a synagogue, according to the study released earlier this month. But those numbers have long been dismally low. The Philadelphia Jewish population study of 2009 found that just 35 percent of Jewish households belonged to a synagogue, and that reflected only a slight dip from 37 percent back in 1997.
Perhaps we need to worry less about the numbers and more about the quality of the experience.
A combination of inspiring clergy, a welcoming atmosphere, meaningful worship and stimulating educational opportunities provides the foundation for a successful congregation. But in today’s financially and demographically challenging environment, more is needed.
As our opinion piece by Debbie Albert suggests this week, innovation can help strengthen a congregation. At Temple Sinai in Dresher, Albert initiated a program, “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbas,” which she calls a Shabbat dinner “pyramid scheme.” The seemingly simple notion of extending Shabbat dinner invitations to members of a congregation appears to be striking a chord. Her idea has been picked up by other local synagogues as well as congregations across the country.
Congregations need to think beyond their walls and find imaginative ways to engage different sectors of the community. Collaboration is key. Synagogues are increasingly working together to develop stronger educational and community programming.
The synagogues of the next generation may — and should — look different but the concept of a meaningful and inspiring community shouldn’t be lost in the process.
We can’t depend solely on synagogues to provide the key for everyone. But neither can we give up on them.
If your synagogue is doing something innovative that is working, let us know! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org .